The power of mandala

It’s almost 3am, I am wide awake after a trip to Asia and I’m juggling with so many competing and troubling thoughts. I decided to draw a mandala. The term mandala means circle, and thinking in mandalas gives us balance, perspective and inner peace.


During my travels, I met a 24 years old Cyprian who told me that he is thinking of committing a suicide. Why? Because he still hasn’t had any success, no material possessions, no dreams fulfilled. I’m wondering is that enough of a reason? Is life really all about the pursuit of happiness? Happy wedding, happy living, happy reading, happy eating!


The next few days I spent with Erik Hollnagel and his daughter Katja traveling in India and delivering workshops. Once again, I experienced the power of learning from what goes well. In many ways it was refreshing. Coincidentally, though, within the same week I received a call from a close friend working as a group safety manager. His company had experienced two deaths onboard ships in the same month. During our call he cried and said, “Nippin we cannot continue like this, I cannot continue like this.” We can be critical about learning from accidents but seeing blood, injury, sufferings or death also helps us appreciate the vulnerabilities of life. It opens doorways to learning like no other life experience when we come to terms with our mortal being.


I then met a flight attendant on a short passage from Jakarta to Singapore with a beautiful smile on her face. I asked her how she copes with her work. She said, “here it’s still better, the economy class is worse. Some people think they have bought a ticket and they can get away with anything. Sometimes we get turbulence on the way and we still have to serve them a meal. It’s a very short passage but we put a smile on our face.” The same story was shared by a hotel staff. Notice how humility is mistaken with docility and furthermore even abused. Such is the problem with measuring one aspect of human emotions (quality with a smile) at the detriment of another (motivation, wellness).


The mandala reminds us of the problem with one-sided thinking (dualism, extremism) by offering a balanced perspective about our experiences. I’m not a practicing Hindu but the symbol of Om in the centre is a way of aligning consciousness with the unconscious mind. The seven colours of the rainbow symbolise peace with nature which I only discovered after colouring.


If you are lost in your thoughts, I urge you to draw a mandala.

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